Now confirmed, the legendary boiling river deep in the Amazon was long considered an impossibility due to its distance from any volcanoes.
Growing up in Peru, Andrés Ruzo had long heard strange tales of a river deep in the Amazon that boiled from below. As an adult – and a geothermal scientist – Ruzo figured that the legend was unlikely.
But Ruzo remained intrigued. As a PhD student in geophysics at Southern Methodist University he set his sights on creating a comprehensive geothermal map of Peru, including parts of the Amazon, wondering if indeed a boiling river could exist in the region – an idea his peers found ridiculous. It would take a tremendous amount of geothermal heat to boil even a small section of a river, notes Maddie Stone in Gizmodo, and the Amazon basin lies hundreds of miles from any active volcanoes. Even his thesis adviser told him to stop exploring “stupid questions.”
But Ruzo persisted, and his “stupid questions” led to his locating the real-life boiling river – the sacred healing site of Mayantuyacu, hidden deep in the Peruvian rainforest and overseen by a powerful shaman.
"As a geothermal scientist, I know that 'boiling rivers' exist – but they’re always near volcanoes. You need a lot of energy to heat up that much water," writes Ruzo in National Geographic. "Yet here in Peru, more than 400 miles from the nearest active volcano, was the Boiling River of the Amazon."
At 4 miles long and up to 82 feet wide and 20 feet deep, the river’s temperatures generally range from 120F degrees to 196F degrees, and in some parts it actually boils. Animals who fall in are killed quickly. And while there are hot springs in the Amazon, there is nothing like this river which is known to locals as Shanay-timpishka.
“The locals think it’s so hot because of the Yacumama … a giant serpent spirit who gives birth to hot and cold waters,” writes Ruzo, “and is represented by a large serpent head-shaped boulder at the river’s headwaters.”
Each year a smattering of tourists visit Mayantuyacu seeking the traditional healing practices of the Asháninka people. But aside from a few random mentions in petroleum journals from the early 20th century, scientific documentation of the river is nil.
“Somehow, this natural wonder has managed to elude widespread notice for over 75 years,” notes Stone.
But not for long. Ruzo has written a book on the phenomenon, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon. Part mystery, part scientific study, part adventure story, Ruzo hopes the book will bring attention to this singular spot that, like many of the world’s secret jewels, is becoming increasingly threatened. Since his first visit in 2011, Ruzo has seen much of the surrounding forest destroyed by illegal logging. Unless efforts are made to protect Mayantuyacu, it could soon disappear.
"In the middle of my PhD, I realized, this river is a natural wonder,” Ruzo said. “And it’s not going to be around unless we do something about it.”
See film footage of the magical boiling river below: